From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ENS SCI seminar seeks ethical voices in globalization debate

From Worldwide Faith News <>
Date Wed, 28 Apr 2004 12:12:11 -0700

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

SCI seminar seeks ethical voices in globalization debate

By Debra Wagner

ENS 042804-1

(ENS) "The grass beneath our feet is burning. Jobs are rapidly disappearing 
from our communities. We need to find a shared moral language in order to 
create an ethical voice in the debate over globalization," said the Rev. 
Chuck W. Rawlings to 65 interfaith religious leaders gathered at 
"Preserving Local Communities Amid the Storms of Globalization," a seminar 
held April 27 at the International Seafarers' Center in Port Newark, New 

A Presbyterian minister and former member of the National Council of 
Churches, Rawlings is president of the United Nations Association USA (New 
Jersey Division), which sponsored the event along with the Seamen's Church 
Institute of New York and New Jersey (SCI).

He joined other advocates, academics, and labor leaders in sounding an 
alarm as more white-collar jobs follow globalizations economics to distant 
shores. It was a wake up call to religious leaders to understand and create 
dialogue concerning globalization.

"What happened to our fervor?" said Monsignor John Gilchrist, pastor of 
Holy Cross Parish in Harrison, New Jersey and chair of the Newark 
Archdiocesan Commission for Inter-Religious Affairs. "If this were the 
1970s, the room would be overflowing with religious people taking the lead 
in transformational social justice. Can it be that we are only focused on 

Fighting battles already fought

Labor and advocacy experts presented a gloomy portrait of globalization 
that will continue to erode the quality of life for the middle and 
professional classes. Poor and immigrant workers, already marginalized, 
will find that government protections are not being enforced or heeded, 
they said.

"Who would believe that we have to fight the battle for a safe workplace 
when we already have the laws? People are working high-risk positions for 
low wages. Injury and death rates are rising among these low-paying jobs," 
said Richard Cunningham, executive director of New Labor, a New Brunswick, 
New Jersey community group that provides programs and advocates for Latino 

According to Dr. Eileen Appelbaum, labor economist and director of the 
Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, already 300,000 high tech 
jobs have been outsourced. "It happened so quickly that it is not a stretch 
to count the other 14 million US high tech jobs in grave jeopardy. Look at 
what happened to manufacturing jobs," she said.

The future job outlook is equally bleak. According to US Labor Department 
statistics released in February 2004, the top ten occupations with the 
largest job growth through 2012 include seven that are considered low 
paying. These include retail salespersons, customer service reps, food prep 
and serving workers, cashiers, janitors and cleaners, waiters and 
waitresses, and nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants. Only three 
professionsregistered nurses, post-secondary teachers, and general 
operations managersrequired a college degree.

"All of this leads to increased anxiety among white collar workers. 
Families suffer. People are afraid to ask for time off to take care for a 
sick child or elderly parent. Workers take pay cuts to keep medical 
benefits or exchange health care coverage for more wages," said Appelbaum.

She is concerned that skilled workers are facing uncertainty while 
corporations enjoy their highest profits. According to the Center for 
Economic and Public Research, corporate profits have grown substantially 
since 2000, cutting into employee compensation. In addition, corporate 
reinvestment is at its lowest point.

"Even the great boom of the 90's was really a hoax. Local governments 
offered incentive packages to corporations where many pay little or no 
taxes," said John Shure, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective. 
"Median wages in New Jersey actually declined. Wages fell for everyone 
without a college diploma. "

Shure looks to faith-based communities to join other labor advocates 
because "you can play to peoples noblest sentiments. We live in a culture 
that exalts the rugged individual. If you haven't made it economically, it 
is your fault. Our task is to return to a sense that we are in this 
together. That won't be easy because we will need to fight individual greed 
that permeates our government, culture, and consumer nature."

Worldwide concern

The American workers' dilemma has long been high on the agenda of workers 
in other countries. There is a greater sense of consciousness of workers' 
rights and abuses in international agencies such as the United Nations. 
Tanny Mukhopadhyay, policy specialist for the United Nations, urged 
religious leaders to look to internationally agreed documents. The 
International Labor Organization's Standards of Aspiration clearly 
demonstrate a model workplace. While international workers' organizations 
and the United Nations agree on shared workplace goals, many local 
governments ignore their findings.

"The spectrum of debate worldwide has shifted dramatically to the right," 
she said. "What most of us knew as the left is now the center. Unless there 
is a way for people on the ground to network through organizations, global 
economic forces will look only for low-corporate overhead and low labor

Church World Service has also monitored the impact of globalization on 
local cultures. Ms. Rajyashri Waghray, Director of CSW's Education and 
Advocacy, admonished governments for abdicating their role to civil 
society. "Today it seems we only need the State be elected and to defend 
us. Governments are not expected to act when globalization breaks down 
communities and culture."

Labor leaders understand the loss of civil society. Today 12% of workers 
belong to unions, compared to close to 40% following World War II, 
according to Alan Kauffman of the Communications Workers of America.

Dilemma for religious leaders

It is difficult for even those religious leaders involved in workplace 
ministry to take a firm stand. The Rev. Jean R. Smith, SCI's executive 
director, has served a global community of seafarers for 13 years. "The 
various factions surrounding globalization are asking us to stand staunchly 
by their political agenda. Are we for American jobs to the exclusion of 
workers from developing nations? Do we stand by silently as we see 
seafarers paid exceedingly different pay scales for the same work? An easy 
answer to such complex questions means that nobody wins. Keeping the 
Institute's doors open to all sides means that at least there will be a 
place for debate" said Smith.

Marge Christie of Christ Episcopal Church, Ridgewood, New Jersey, took a 
more cynical view of the lack of debate in faith communities. "Apathy is 
directly related to this issue's complexity, she explained. We can 
certainly mobilize around issue of sexuality; why not find a way to connect 
to progressive religious ethics?"

Dr. Louie Crew, a member of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council and 
Grace Church, Newark, New Jersey, found the message to religious leaders 
sobering. "This is like an Intensive Care Unit response to a Christian 
conscience that has lost its vital signs in the community."

The close connection between globalization and church funding was not lost 
on some in the audience. Endowment income and pension plans are linked to 
the revenues generated by a stock market dominated by global corporations. 
The Rev. Thomas A. Kerr, Jr., canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of New 
Jersey, hoped that conferences like this could spark the start of difficult 
discussions within parishes.

"Individuals who have decision-making capabilities depend on investments. 
That individual's economic status affects how money is viewed. It may be 
hard to get a conversation going about ethics," said Kerr.

The Rev. Geoffrey Curtiss, rector of All Saints' in Hoboken and a member of 
the Jubilee Interfaith Organizing Committee in New Jersey, encouraged 
networking. "There are established networks of social justice being laid 
throughout our region. We all need to get involved. People of faith need to 
build another constituency for social change that builds community and does 
not reward greed."

The United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) is 
the catalyst for such conversations throughout the country. As a convener 
for a wide variety of groups, UNA-USA provides a bipartisan forum for 
analysis and discussion on a wide range of global issues ( 
The Seamen's Church Institute of New York and New Jersey advocates for the 
personal, professional and spiritual well being of mariners. Established in 
1834, SCI is an ecumenical agency affiliated with the Episcopal Church. 

--Debra Wagner is director of communications of Seamen's Church Institute 
of New York and New Jersey.

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